How to handle gender field drop down options in software
February 17, 2017 10:23 AM   Subscribe

What options should I put into the drop down for the question of gender in my software application?

I'm hoping I can get some insight into how the non cisgender community would like to be referenced during an account opening process. I'm setting up the profile fields in the software, and for the gender there is going to be a drop down of Male and Female, but was wondering what options I should use for those that don't identify in that binary way?

Typically I see this handled as "other" but I get the vague sense that is not what the community would want to be categorized as.

Note: I need gender as part of my CIP (customer identification protocol) process. Otherwise I would remove the field altogether.
posted by herda05 to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a any way you can make it a text box instead of a drop-down? I've always been a fan of how Metafilter does it.
posted by General Malaise at 10:25 AM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

How about a third option for "other/none/prefer not to say"?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:31 AM on February 17, 2017

We deal with this in the library world sometimes where our choice is to remove this but some library catalogs don't have this option but do allow customization. A few things that have been helpful.

- have a "prefer not to answer" option
- have a free text option
- have flavor text "Why are we asking this?" with a link to an explanation so you can get across why you're even asking and that you are at least aware of the issues involved.

Here are a few ways large scale orgs have dealt with this

- Common Application for school admissions (has sex and gender fields and a free text area)
- University of CA (asks for self-description with a small subset of choices but also sex-assigned-at-birth)

And here's an essay with things to think about from Practice Makes Progress suggesting asking about pronouns and having some freeform text areas.
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2017 [19 favorites]

You need to be clear in your head what you're going to do with this data and how you plan to treat people who choose options other than Male or Female. If you're simply going to treat the third option as an undifferentiated mass, just provide an "I'll Specify!" option with a freeform text box. The text would then be essentially meaningless from your point of view, but it lets people feel unrestricted and that they can define themselves.
posted by Emma May Smith at 10:37 AM on February 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

I need gender as part of my CIP (customer identification protocol) process

If you're doing this for the process, then do what the process requires -- or at least be more specific about that when asking for suggestions :)

What happens to this data after you collect it? What is it used for? Who uses it?
posted by amtho at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

- Male
- Female
- Nonbinary
- Intersex
- Other
- Choose not to answer...
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 10:50 AM on February 17, 2017

Seconding Emma May Smith.

You could also go with:
Non-Binary / Genderfluid
Other [free text box]
Prefer Not to Say
posted by ananci at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2017

One thing I would like to warn against: I'm starting to see the three options Male / Female / Transgender pop up on surveys. Don't do this.

This sort of subtly implies that transgender women are not female (they are), that transgender men are not male (they are), and that trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people are just all in one third gender group together (we're not).

I've also seen some surveys ask "What gender were you assigned at birth" with zero other follow up gender questions which is problematic as FUCK.....basically saying "no matter how you identify now, we only care about and only recognize the gender you were assigned at birth."
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:31 AM on February 17, 2017 [31 favorites]

Thanks you all for the feedback.

Jessamyn, those resources are great, I'm reading through them now.

Emma, as part of on boarding our customers we need to personally identify individuals (gender assignment at birth being one of the data points we can correlate against outside data sources). This data is used for that purpose alone. Anything we collect in this regard is considered personally identifiable information (PII) and we have internal and legal guidelines by which access to the information is even granted once it is collected. It is possible the data does get accessed by the government in cases of financial crime. This value, along with others points of data are used to ensure you are who you say you are.

Based on the aggregate of answers, it appears a free form text box for Gender Identity, with a descriptive suggestion list, along with a second field for "What gender were you assigned at birth" is the best fit. I can make the Gender Identity question a non-requirement, as the data we need is going to be in the birth assignment gender.
posted by herda05 at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2017

I can make the Gender Identity question a non-requirement, as the data we need is going to be in the birth assignment gender.

This is probably going to upset people, too, because again it indicates that you don't care about their actual identity, just assignment at birth. If you must do this, I'd put identity first and birth assignment second, and I definitely think a little subtext to explain how this data is used and why it is required would soothe some feelings.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:57 PM on February 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

For your purposes, using a "what gender were you assigned at birth?" question may cause problems for folks who (like myself) have been able to go as far as to change their birth certificates. I have encountered this once before, and while the representative I finally got to speak to was able to fix it, it did flag me for potential fraud and cause me to have to go through a good two hours' worth of phone menus and holding.

I would find it least stressful if you had a "why are we asking this?" explanation that could inform me as to what information you actually need - a medical provider might actually need to know what organs I have, for example, whereas someone else might need to know what my current legal documents say.

Since the only options that show up on identifying documents (ID, birth certificate, passport, etcetera) is binary information in the US, I would state specifically that for your records you need to check their response against that particular document, and let them answer accordingly. Then, for the purpose of good customer service, have a text box for self-identified gender and preferred pronouns.

Also, you may want to consider using the term "sex" instead of "gender." But this may be a personal pet peeve.
posted by Urban Winter at 1:09 PM on February 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

Urban Winter makes a good point, you may need several options (i.e. what is on your drivers license, passport, birth certificate), kind of like when you have to enter exactly the address on your credit card.
posted by 445supermag at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2017

I'm cis, and would not want to answer what gender I was assigned at birth. Yuck. If I had a choice to just go elsewhere, I would.
posted by amtho at 2:07 PM on February 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

I am trans. If you asked for my assigned sex at birth as a condition of me doing business with you, I would take my business elsewhere. I can't think of any valid reason why a company who wants me as a customer would need to know this.
posted by sevenofspades at 2:16 PM on February 17, 2017 [17 favorites]

What are the precise requirements here? The law appears not to say anything about gender. Are you allowed to provide any gender you want to the system, does it check for "male"/"female", or what?

If you have to have a field, what about something like "Gender (private, for financial identification)"? Then you at least know it won't be shown publicly and you have a clue about which documents it ought to match.
posted by panic at 2:22 PM on February 17, 2017

I've tackled this at my large corporate organization, where I lead our LGBTQ business resource group and do I guess what you'd call queer consulting work. I also identify as non-binary.

The HRC (not usually known for trans-inclusion, but in this case they do a pretty good job) has some decent guidelines and options. I've also used this interesting case study to inform how we frame collecting this info in our annual gender diversity survey.
posted by lieber hair at 2:23 PM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm cis and would also refuse to answer a "gender assigned at birth" question. I have never had to answer that question for anyone other than my doctor, and I wouldn't do business with a company that thought it was any of their business.
posted by decathecting at 4:07 PM on February 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Given your update, I would do the question something along the lines of:

"For our onboarding purposes, we need to match your application to legal records. For this purpose, what is the gender listed on your [passport/birth certificate/whatever other document you are checking against"

If you are later going to use this, you could also ask for preferred pronouns in a free text box so that your employees can properly address folks.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:15 PM on February 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

You could also go with:
Non-Binary / Genderfluid
Other [free text box]
Prefer Not to Say

I'd really caution against using the "-identifying" language. I understand that the intent is to be respectful of people's varied gender identities. Nobody started using "-identifying" until trans issues came to the forefront, though, so the implication is that identifying as something is different than BEING that thing. Trans men/women do not identify as women, they ARE men/women. I do not identify as non-binary, I AM non-binary. Etc.
posted by zebra at 5:42 PM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Trans woman here, asking for my birth gender as a requirement of using your service would make me say "do I really need to use this". Have a pop up that explains why you want to know this, it really feels rude to ask. Do you explicitly need to know Birth Gender or do you need to know Government ID Gender? Because I present as female, and have a birth certificate that says "m" and a driver's license and passport that says "f" and I am not about to wave that birth certificate around if I can help it. I mean I am out, and I make damn sure any medical professional I'm dealing with knows the history and current state of my endocrine system and genitals, but I really don't want to tell, say, the people I'm doing business with to print my comic books, about that.

Free form text input. Or male/female/asexual/non-binary/prefer not to say.

I also like Fallen London's option of "An Individual of Mysterious and Indistinct Gender" if you've got to have a drop down.
posted by egypturnash at 9:51 PM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

i vote for length-constrained free text. let everyone describe themselves - or not: 0 - 25 chars.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:40 PM on February 17, 2017

as part of on boarding our customers we need to personally identify individuals (gender assignment at birth being one of the data points we can correlate against outside data sources).

I might be misunderstanding, but I'm having a hard time imagining a scenario where gender assigned at birth is the single detail that helps confirm that someone is who they say they are. Presumably you are also asking for first and last name, and maybe birth date or other details that are more likely to be unique to one person with a particular name. Will there really be enough (or any?) instances of an AFAB "Pat Smith" and an AMAB "Pat Smith" born on the same date that this is really a useful thing? There are only two sexes assigned at birth (in the US at the moment) so it does not seem like very useful information if what you are actually after is more unique data points to identify someone.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

gender assignment at birth being one of the data points we can correlate against outside data sources

It is highly unlikely that you have reliable access to this information unless you are a government agency (and, even then, that's a stretch) and that assumption is basically an indication you're approaching this incorrectly. This is not a software problem. It's a problem with the business's assumptions about trans people and trying to engineer a solution to what boils down to needing to treat people with respect. You need to understand the following things:
  • It's basically totally inappropriate to ask someone whether they're trans without good reason. It's beyond inappropriate to ask for gender assigned at birth. It's like saying "I asked your gender and you told me, but what's your 'real' gender?"
  • Many trans people are not interested in discussing their trans status as part of a business transaction.
  • To that end, some will not disclose regardless of how you word the question, what you ask or why you say you want this information. Unless you're a medical provider, you should assume no one will disclose. The business needs to have a plan for sensitively handling the situation where you fail to verify someone's identity because of a gender marker mismatch.
  • As has been pointed out, many trans people change their documents. (Seriously, no one at your organization knows this?) Whatever database you're hitting will not record the gender they were assigned at birth (and, oh yeah, asking that's a dealbreaker for doing business with you).
  • People do not have a single gender marker and they all change (or don't) independently. If you know what you're comparing to, you can ask for that gender marker. However, I'm guessing you're hitting something like Spokeo. Given that those companies' data thinks I've lived places I never have and their data results in sending credit card offers to infants, it's not exactly surprising that they're going to report a gender marker that has nothing to do with any particular document. They're going to report incorrect genders for people both cis and trans. So you're back to needing staff be able to handle that situation.
The only exception I can think of to the above is if you bill health insurance (and maybe if you have to check Selective Service registration, but what businesses do?). Then the correct question is "What gender marker is on your health insurance?" However, you need to understand that some people will not know. Changes propagate through systems in weird ways and if you have employer-provided health insurance, it's possible your employer flipped a bit and that changed your insurance, or maybe it didn't. Or you change your name and X months later, someone at the insurance company goes "Huh, this person has the wrong gender marker" and changes it.

It sound very much like you're working for a business, not a government entity or a non-profit, so I assume grant-reporting isn't a concern. That's maybe the other place where you need to know how many trans people you're serving and possibly the breakdown of genders assigned at birth. If you actually need to count trans people, you separate it from the gender question because of the issues Juliet Banana mentioned (the same issues apply to offering "trans man" and "trans women" as options--they're not distinct genders for most people).
posted by hoyland at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

One thing I would like to warn against: I'm starting to see the three options Male / Female / Transgender pop up on surveys. Don't do this.

You're seeing this because some university ethics boards are getting the idea that's just putting "male" and "female" is inadequate, but really don't understand trans and non-binary issues. A colleague of mine was explicitly told to put "male", "female" and "transgendered" on his survey by his research ethics board. It's like they were trying to be more inclusive, but really didn't understand what it read like. We put an open text box instead.

In our most recent survey, we again used an open textbox, and coded the responses afterwards for statistical analysis. Since we aren't studying differences between cis and trans people, that status isn't relevant for our research. So we ended up coding them just as male, female and non-binary, as they had self-identified.

If you did wish to study differences between trans & cis people, maybe you could ask first a question about gender, then if that is the gender they were assigned at birth or whether they identify as trans or cis. I think a recent health survey I did as a participant asked this. But if you are just getting basic demographics, it's much easier to have an open textbox and code later.
posted by jb at 6:09 PM on February 18, 2017

sorry: most of my response was for Juliet Banana (and I totally agree with the other JB)

But back to the OP: for your business (like our study), all you need is their self-identified gender. If you have to make specific options, I suggest male, female and non-binary (and maybe a "prefer not to answer as a fourth option). Trans or cis status isn't relevant.
posted by jb at 6:13 PM on February 18, 2017

I am a trans woman who self-identifies as "Female". I read the UofC questionnaire and the "sex assigned at birth, like on an original birth certificate" is making me so livid i'm having trouble breathing and typing right now. Please, if there's any way to avoid this question, don't do it. Personally, I have a birth certificate that says "Female"... BECAUSE IT'S BEEN UPDATED. To better reflect the truth. But then it's not "original", is it, like the questionnaire demands. The question is asking about something that even the Hungarian government agrees should NOT be asked about.

I haven't read the other answers, I don't think I need/want to. The birth question is deeply upsetting and rejects the identity that i fought for decades to have acknowledged.
posted by tigrrrlily at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

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